The rainbow connection

Ernst & Young has dedicated significant resources to spread a message of inclusiveness to its LGBT employees and the business community at large.

Ernst & Young has dedicated significant resources to spread a message of inclusiveness to its LGBT employees and the business community at large.

Four years ago at Ernst & Young (E&Y), a grassroots group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees and their allies received the firm's full support to establish an internal network dedicated to LGBT inclusiveness.

The bEYond network officially began in 2005 and has since taken root in local offices across the country. It has had phenomenal success both internally and externally, helping to propel E&Y to the forefront of thought leadership on LGBT inclusiveness in corporate America.

"This year is the integration year," says Chris Crespo, LGBTA inclusiveness strategy leader at E&Y. (The term "LGBTA" is used to include "allies.") "2006 [was about] get[ting] people involved [and] groups established. [It was about letting everyone] see this is real - it isn't just something executives are talking about. We've built a foundation we can grow on. We're integrating with the strategy of the firm."

People-driven culture
For E&Y, that strategy is: people, quality, and growth. Committed to a people-driven culture, the firm uses the term "People First" to describe its environment.

"E&Y believes its competitive advantage is highly dependent on its ability to leverage the differences of its people to create diversity of thought," says Holly Humphrey, an assistant director of PR and manager of "People First" communications initiatives.

"[When] trying to recruit the best and brightest," she adds, "[it's] extremely important to be seen as inclusive. People come to E&Y because they're looking for that environment. It's about recruiting people and keeping people here."

Last year, E&Y's existing internal inclusiveness/diversity program was rebranded to include LGBT employees.

"We wanted to ensure our people felt comfortable bringing their 'whole self' to work," Crespo says. "This includes discussing [weekend plans] or [displaying] a picture of your partner. You get [motivated, engaged staffers] by making people feeling included."

E&Y makes it a point to use the words "sexual orientation" when referring to diversity issues and inclusiveness.

"What you say and what you don't say are equally powerful," says Michele Vana, SVP at Fleishman-Hillard, E&Y's AOR.

Sharing stories of employees' personal experiences has been key to both internal and external efforts. Videos are available online and were shown at a partner meeting.

Those personal stories have also resonated with the media, resulting in coverage in such influential outlets as Fortune.

In addition, E&Y was the first big four accounting firm to receive a 100% rating on HRC's Equality Index - a rating it has maintained for three years.

And certainly for E&Y, one of the goals is to impact the broader business community, Crespo notes. Last year, the firm organized the LGBT Inclusiveness Roundtable, which convened 10 global companies, including Citigroup, Pfizer, and Xerox, as well as nonprofit groups Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, and Equality Forum.

Out of that event came the Making it Real report, which shares key findings and best practices. The report was first distributed at last year's Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Chicago, where 72 E&Y volunteers helped staff the event and lead workshops. More than 5,000 copies of the report have gone out in the US.

Working with FH OutFront, E&Y also targeted the media, resulting in 100 stories in outlets such as The Advocate,, and The Washington Post.

These efforts were key in helping E&Y fully realize LGBT inclusiveness and establish authority.

"Involving third parties gave us opportunities to get people involved and active," Crespo says. "It gave us a start on how to include LGBTA in the workplace because we were meeting people who had done it."

Momentum and lessons learned have played a big role in this year's increased internal integration and activities. "We're moving from being a group within the firm to being part of the culture of the firm," says Bryan Parsons, E&Y assurance manager and bEYond steering committee member.

"Recruiting is a key focus for us, and CSR focuses are on education and mentoring," he continues. "So, we're aligning many [LBGT] efforts with student-based organizations, [such as] GLSEN [Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network], Campus Pride, OUT for Work, and Reaching OUT."

The bEYond groups are also working successfully with other internal affinity organizations. In Minneapolis this year, the city's diversity committee, gender equity committee, and bEYond chapter worked together to bring Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, co-secretary general for the International Lesbian and Gay Association and executive director of Equal Ground, Sri Lanka, to speak in September about overall inclusiveness.

Surpassing expectations
 "We had no idea we could take it this far or this big," Crespo says. "Every step, we were given the firm's support. When we asked for things, the question was always, 'What do you need?' It's been like a dream come true."

Parsons adds, "Being involved now in LGBT efforts is creating opportunities. It's not just about leveling the playing field; it's providing opportunity to continuously improve the workplace and advance careers. I don't think any of us ever would have seen this as the future."

Success has given Crespo confidence to dream big.

"Knowing and seeing the impact diversity, inclusiveness, and flexibility has on people's everyday work," she says, "I want to take it as far as we can locally, nationally, and globally."

Practices that support LGBT inclusiveness

-Make LGBT issues and outreach equally as important to your company as other diversity issues and outreach.

"People are looking to this as a barometer," says Chris Crespo, LGBTA inclusiveness strategy leader. "It goes a long way with future recruits and how people perceive your company."

-Make sure executives use the words "sexual orientation" when they speak about aspects of diversity.

"We've done this, and it has made a big difference," says Holly Humphrey, manager of E&Y's People First communications initiatives.

-Have executives attend LGBT conferences and events.

"It lets people see [executives] walking the walk, [and] there's no better way for leaders to hear [and] talk to folks being impacted by positive changes," says Bryan Parsons, bEYond steering committee member.

-Leverage third parties.

"People [know] that you're serious when you start sponsoring and participating in conferences like Out & Equal," says Michele Vana, SVP at Fleishman-Hillard. "[And third parties] also help you find different and better ways to get the word out,"

-Tell real stories about real people, and do it publicly.

"[Stories] humanize it," Crespo says. "[People] can find similarities and that gives you something to build on."

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